Russian born harmonica player Portnov impresses on this most enjoyable collection of blues, gypsy jazz and other roots music. A background that included studying classical piano, he also absorbed rock and blues growing up. He studied at the New England Conservatory of Music wherever he received a Masters Degree. He was the first person accepted in NEC with the diatonic harmonica s his main instrument. Taught in Russia to play the harmonica, his teacher Alex Bratetsky showed him an overflow technique, and introduced him to harmonica innovators, Howard Levy, Jason Ricci and Carlos del Junco, making him realize he could play anything on the harmonica. Moving to the US enabled him to meet and study with them, and delve deeper into blues and other roots music including Brazilian choro.
On this nine song program Portnov is supported by Kid Andersen on guitar and bass, Chris Burns on piano and keyboards, June Core on drums with Ben Andrews (a member of Portnov's band Choro Bastardo) adding violin to two tracks, Rob Vye, adding guitar on one track and percussion on another, Robby Yamilov adding bass to one track. It was the recorded by Kid Andersen at his Greaseland Studios.
It opens with the very appealing, old time country tinged "Sunny Afternoon Blues," where his harmonica and Andrews' violin make for a very engaging performance with his playing evocative of jazz harmonica players such as Henrik Meurkens. Against an energetic gypsy flavor (Burns keyboards adds to the flavor with Andersen channeling the Ventures and other surf guitar instrumentals), Portnov dazzles with his sax-like lines.On "Dance Of A Lonely Doll," his wonderful playing is in a gypsy jazz vein with Burns deft piano accompaniment along with very light bass and drums. Rob Vye's guitar introduces Rev Gary Davis' "Cincinnati Flow Rag" with some wonderful fingerstyle picking before Portnov joins in and then the full ensemble on a lively acoustic band number.
The waltz "In a Town Garden" is another charming gypsy-flavored tune with some nicely played harmonica and organ from Burns. "Behind The Wall," is a solid instrumental in a Little Walter vein with some fat toned Mississippi saxophone while Burns and Anderson lay down some solid support and Core is superb on this easy rocking instrumental. The title track is a laid back, four o'clock in morning, blues instrumental played relatively softly with tasteful solos from Burns and Andersen in addition to the leader. "1928" is a lovely tango which also features Ben Andrews' violin.
Its back to the blues on the closing "Till Early Morning," with its infectious Bo Diddley groove and enticing tremolo employed in Andersen's guitar playing. Portnov is a marvelous harmonica player and is backed by the marvelous studio band on this marvelous recording.
I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a performance by Robert Vye and Ilya Portnov.